Today, the city of Atlanta is almost unrecognisable from the one that was announced as the host of the 1996 Olympic Games in 1990, underlining the opportunities that the Games creates to transform a city for the better.
“Atlanta benefited more than any other city in the history of the Olympic Games,” said A.D. Frazier, the chief operating officer for the Atlanta 1996 Organising Committee, in 2009. “Afterward, we had no debt and we left behind a legacy of privately funded structures the city would not have seen otherwise.”
Prior to hosting the Games, a huge urban regeneration project was initiated in downtown Atlanta, with the newly built Centennial Olympic Park at its heart.
The 21-acre park was the largest urban green space constructed in the United States for more than 25 years, transforming a previously rundown industrial district into a dazzling central gathering spot for entertainment and mingling both during and after the Games. Nearly 2,000 trees were planted in the city’s downtown area prior to the Games, while more than USD 500 million was also invested in new landscaped plazas and promenades, completely changing the appearance of the city.
Atlanta also benefitted from the construction of several new sporting venues, which continue to serve the community today by hosting professional sports teams, university students and acting as entertainment and commercial destinations. The Olympic Stadium (now called Turner Field), Philips Arena and Georgia Dome alone have played host to All-Star Games for Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey, World Series Games, Superbowls and NCAA Final Fours.
Atlanta also reported a USD 5 billion economic impact as a result of hosting the Games, while the city also saw more than US$1.8bn worth of hotels, office premises, residential buildings and entertainment venues constructed in the 10 years after it hosted the Games.
Hosting the Games also branded Atlanta to 70% of the world’s population according to local city groups, while polls conducted before and after the Games revealed that positive perceptions of the city amongst corporate decision makers nearly doubled – placing Atlanta “on the map” in a way that it would not have been able to achieve without hosting the Games.
Perhaps most significantly, the Games also gave local residents a reason to be proud of their city, as Billy Payne, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta 1996 Organising Committee explains.
"Winning the Games is the most uplifting, prideful, beat-on-your-chest moment Atlantans ever experienced," he said. "If you win a Super Bowl and a World Series and multiply it by 100, that is the passion and pride you feel about the opportunity to welcome the world to your community."
The IOC has since used the successful legacies of the Atlanta Games as an example for future host cities. By working closely with Games organisers, the IOC is able to demonstrate what can be achieved by planning for once the Games have finished.
As every host city is different and has different priorities, the IOC encourages each one to define its own objectives and create a long-term strategy and vision from the beginning of the bid process to look at how the Games can be a catalyst for development – this subsequently provides the Games organisers with clear objectives to aim for during the seven years of Olympic preparation and beyond.